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I love the Internet, even if it IS making me stupid

I’ve read a few articles over the years about how the Internet rewires our brains. It actually causes physical changes in our brains. Adaptations. I’ve been online since 1989. That’s 21 years. And I’m not a light user, either. I’m a seriously committed, heavy-duty, addicted user. I don’t find it a stretch at all to think that the Internet has physically altered my brain and the way I process information and think.

These are not subtle changes, either. I’ve actually noticed them in myself. For instance, it’s much harder for me to concentrate on dense or complex material now. I used to like nothing better than to sink my teeth into really meaty material. But now I seem to prefer to get information in a much easier, faster, and more superficial way. I click and scan, click and scan, click and scan. What sinks in, sinks in. If I miss something, it doesn’t matter, because there are a million more fragments of information streaming past me. I just grab whatever’s easiest. As Nicholas Carr says, “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

But it feels like such a lazy way of learning. I can pick up bite-sized pieces of information this way, but it’s getting harder and harder to stretch my brain to really truly think about anything.

I also interrupt myself constantly – and allow others to do the same – while on the net. Some people call this multi-tasking. At this moment, for example, I have 15 tabs open in Firefox, plus multiple menu and tool bars, and several other programs. The instant my attention flags, I’m elsewhere. I also have pop-up notifications to let me know when a new email arrives, which is literally about every five minutes, and I always at least peek immediately to see who it’s from. In the bottom right-hand corner of my screen, I get little pop-ups from Twitter, letting me know who’s saying what out there. I always scan these, and I frequently click on the links they’re sharing.

My short-term memory is deteriorating too. I’ll give you an example. It’ll occur to me to google something – I don’t know – maybe healthy foods for baby birds. But in the instant it takes to think this thought and move my cursor up to the google search box, I’ll have scanned two tweets and forgotten what it was I was going to google. This happens a lot. I can’t seem to stay focused long enough to get anything done. No problem. I’ll just do something else instead. I think I’ve acquired attention deficit disorder.

Carr’s article also pointed out that other forms of media had to change in response to the way the Internet was changing the way we think.

“As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets.”

In other words, because the Internet is dumbing us down, everything else has to dumb itself down too, so we can understand it.

Anyway. I still love the Internet, even if it is making me stupid.

8 comments to I love the Internet, even if it IS making me stupid

  • XUP

    Oh no!! I hope I isn’t getting dumber. I’m not nearly as hardcore as you. I don’t tweet. I’m terrible at multi-tasking, so I only have one thing open at a time. And I use the internet to research in much the same way I would use books to do research. And I have to focus on a lot of dense material at work and still read actual books, so I’m managing to maintain that faculty. Is it too late to reverse these effects do you think??

  • grace

    I skimmed the article. I get your point.

    Back in the day, when I had three children under the age of five and was missing the old gang I knew from an undergrad in literature and the kooks who were the IT guys with me in the late 70’s, I used to read 3 to 5 sturdy books per week. Despite sleep deprivation and some amount of interruption, I could discuss literature with some intelligence. Now, hmmmmm. I read about three books per month. This is not good.

  • I believe it!

    I need to take breaks from the interbet to find my brain again. First I zip from thing to thing and get DEPRESSED when I can’t google things. Then I get over it, my brain settles down and I find myself looking for MINDLESS ACTUALLY PRODUCTIVE things to fill the “boredom”.

    Right now it’s doing the laborious job of peeling latex paint off of oil. Sounds boring right? The thing is unlike reading articles at the Onion, or hitting refresh on facebook when I’m bored my thoughts are suddenly MY OWN. MY VERY OWN THOUGHTS AND IDEAS ON WHAT I ACTUALLY FEEL LIKE THINKING ABOUT.


    I didn’t realize before being forced to take a very long internet break how much of my brain gets consumed by other people’s thoughts and concerns.

  • Lo

    A LOT of what you wrote her resonates with me. Guess I’m stupid too:) but loving it! (Now what did I come here for again???)

  • …I skip every other sentence now in everything I read, sometimes entire paragraphs. If I get to a point where I feel like I’m lost I’ll go back, but I figure the first few sentences of a post or news article will give me the gist of the piece.

    I’ve been online since 1990 or 91, back during the Carleton U. BBS days. When I was a kid I used to read a novel in an afternoon, I haven’t had the mental stamina to read a complete book in years.

  • Wow, Zoom, this post left me disturbed and worried about this oh-so-Internet-focussed generation, my kids included. I read the article you referenced, and then some others, and I’m appalled that people who use the internet a lot seem to be losing some congnitive function. Never mind the loss of function that comes naturally with menopause and age, this one is self-inflicted. Yet so many of the people who commented on your post and the Atlantic article reported so cheerfully and glibly about their reduced ability to concentrate, focus or read an entire article, let alone a book! I’m still wondering what to make of it all. Thinking slowy and deeply about this one!

  • Anne Onimos

    Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron”:

    Kurt couldn’t have known that no government would have or need to have a Handicapper General. Between portable audio, handhelds, cellphones, inter-networking, etc. etc., it’s all taken care of.

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